Best Lost East L.A. Cinema Gems

(Illustration by Ronald Kurniawan)

Best Lost East L.A. Cinema Gems

GROWING UP IN EAST L.A., I was lucky enough to live near Whittier Boulevard and the corner of South Record Avenue, where the El Pedorrero (The Farter) muffler shop, now also a museum, continues to backfire. When I wasn’t swimming at Ruben Salazar Park (named after a Mexican-American L.A. Times and KMEX journalist who was killed by sheriff’s deputies at the 1970 Chicano Moratorium held at this site) or playing football at Calvary Cemetery (next to the grave of Lou Costello, of Abbott and Costello), I would spend a lot of my time going to the movies at classic single-screen theaters along Whittier Boulevard.

The Boulevard was located near the famous Whittier Boulevard Arch, where all the ranflas would cruise. My older brother Rigo and I would watch two films for 99 cents, sitting on those old-school leather flip-up seats. With nachos in hand (the old concession stand is still there), we got to see all the early-80s flicks, including my favorite Vietnam-era action films like First Blood (“It’s over, Johnny”) and Uncommon Valor (with Gene Hackman). Originally built in the 1930s, the Boulevard was a moderne theater that later became an East L.A.–style American Bandstand hosted by recently deceased KRLA disc jockey Dick “Huggy Boy” Hugg, hence the words “Huggy Boy” running down the front of the theater. The Boulevard, a theater no more, has found God — now it’s a church.

Then there was the Alameda. We didn’t attend this one as much because it played mostly Spanish-language films and I was trying to be more like Jeff Spicoli than Andres Garcia. If you’ve watched the 1979 Eastside cult classic Boulevard Nights, you'll remember Chuco (Danny De La Paz) walks right by muralist Ernesto de La Loza’s artwork La Danza De Las Aguilas, painted on the Alameda’s exterior walls. The Alameda was built in the 1930s and was restored by the L.A. Conservancy. Sadly, the theater has become a low-end retail store.

The granddaddy of them all was the Golden Gate Theatre. Built back in the 1920s on the corner of Whittier and Atlantic boulevards, this Spanish colonial–style theater was one of L.A.’s most significant neighborhood theaters and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Golden Gate was huge. It had more than 1,400 seats and a balcony that was off limits. I remember the local stoners trying to sneak up there as my brother and I watched Cheech and Chong’s The Corsican Brothers. The cool part of the Golden Gate was that after watching a flick we could grub at the nearby Pup ’n’ Taco — remember those? The building that wrapped around the theater was razed a few years after the 1987 Whittier earthquake, although the theater continues to sit vacant.

THE BOULEVARD 4549 Whittier Blvd., East L.A.

THE ALAMEDA 5136 Whittier Blvd., East L.A.

GOLDEN GATE THEATRE 5176 Whittier Blvd., East L.A.

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